The Essence of Taste

  • Brett Anderson

Oscar Wilde once declared, "I have but the simplest taste—I am always satisfied with the best." Yet the best has not always satisfied Judy Jordan: The geologist-turned-vintner believes that the best can always be bettered, and this conviction has informed the philosophy of Sonoma County’s J Vineyards & Winery since its doors opened in 1986. From her scientific training she acquired an appreciation for innovative ideas and an encyclopedic knowledge of soils, while her parents, Sandra and Tom, owners of Jordan Winery, instilled in her a respect for tradition, as well as well-developed standards of taste and beauty. And though her first career in geophysics took her away from the wine country in which she had grown up, she knew early on that she would one day combine her analytical skills with her aesthetic instincts in making her own wine.

"It all started with the sparkling wine," says Jordan, who enjoys not only the delicate nuances of this particular style of wine, but also its festive associations. "I’ve always enjoyed sparkling wine because of the lifestyle opportunities that it presents—the joy of being able to find all sorts of different occasions to celebrate with friends, family, and customers."

The social appeal of sparkling wine was in part the inspiration behind J’s innovative Tasting Room, where visitors imbibe flights that are enhanced by the culinary creations of executive chef Mark E. Caldwell. "Sparkling wine is a natural for food and wine pairings," explains Jordan, "because it can go with so many different cuisines and has such a great spectrum of flavors."

As J’s portfolio expanded from complex brut and sparkling rosé to superbly rendered Chardonnay and single-vineyard Pinot Noir, so did Jordan’s vision for these pairings. In 2004, she created the Bubble Room, a sunlit private salon exquisitely appointed with decorative glass panels, the rippling surfaces and embedded air bubbles of which suggest the quiet effervescence of J’s captivating bruts. In this luxurious environment, guests enjoy table service, an expanded menu, and the best of the older vintage wines available only at the winery. But even this opulence did not satisfy Jordan. "I wanted to take the pairings to the next level," she says. "We wanted to offer our visitors a unique experience to match the uniqueness of the wines."

That next level is the Essence Tasting—a tour de force of oenological and gastronomic indulgence. Each Thursday, a maximum of eight guests ($200 per person; reservations must be made two weeks in advance) embark on an exclusive four-hour, multisensory journey that includes a tour of one of J’s vineyards and a seven-course, sybaritic wine and food pairing in the soothing environs of the Bubble Room. The menus are seasonal and vary according to the ingredients available—and the creative whims of chef Caldwell, who contrives these pairings to enhance or highlight each wine’s personality. "Sometimes I’ll choose an ingredient—say, dried cherries—that might strip away a wine’s cherry flavor to reveal others," he says. "But it’s never the same. Every vintage is different. That’s what makes it fun."

Caldwell’s menu may include pairings as traditional as Kumamoto oysters with J Vintage Brut, or the less orthodox combination of a J Pinot Gris with an artichoke bisque. A caramelized bay scallop with orange-saffron reduction sauce may hide the acidity of a superbly crafted Russian River Valley Chardonnay, highlighting its creamier characteristics and voluptuous texture, while a porcini-encrusted noisette of lamb accents the vibrant fruit and balanced structure of the Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. This month’s menu, in honor of Valentine’s Day, will offer couples foods regarded as aphrodisiacs. "Of course," he adds, "I never know what my next idea will be—that’s part of the fun."

Nor do we know what Jordan’s next idea for J Vineyards & Winery will be. We know only that it, too, will be fun—and in very good taste.
 
J Vineyards & Winery, 707.431.3646, www.jwine.com

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